My Experience as a First-Time Goal Setter

by Darcie
goal setting

I grew up in a hard-working family. My parents have owned a business for over 25 years and have consistently shown me the time, energy, and effort it takes to keep it running smoothly and generating a profit.

I was taught, through their words and example, to work hard and do my best. I took these principles with me and worked hard in school.

When I graduated law school, I started working at a securities firm. I quickly realized that law was not a good use of my talents and would never fulfill me professionally.

For years, I searched for a field into which I could parlay my law degree and feel fulfilled. Unfortunately, I never found one and decided to consider other options.

That led me to deciding to build on my undergrad degree of psychology and pursue a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy.

It was not a decision I took lightly; in fact, it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. I’d paid off my law school loans and had a nice nest egg that I was planning to put toward a down payment on a home.

But when I started considering what I wanted out of life, I realized that I had to think about the big picture which included first and foremost, a subject matter that interested me, flexibility if I chose to have children, and the ability to own a business and be my own boss. Becoming an MFT seemed like the right fit for me.

I started grad school in August of 2016 and graduated in May 2018. Since then, I have been working on completing the required client contact hours before I can take the licensing exam.

I’ve talked before about how fall is a time when I typically “hit reset,” which is my own version of thinking about goals. In essence, it’s a fresh start for me.

But last fall, a lot of things were up in the air for me. Logan and I were talking about getting engaged, but nothing was set yet. I didn’t know how long it would take for me to realistically complete my client contact hours, so there wasn’t much incentive to start planning to open my own practice.

When the new year arrived, though, a lot had changed. Logan and I had gotten engaged, and I was getting a lot closer to finishing up my hours and was starting to think: what’s next? I felt it was important to spend some time thinking about what I want to accomplish this year and officially set some goals.

I asked Logan if he would want to set individual professional goals and then discuss them together. As much as I work hard to keep pushing myself forward, I liked the idea of sharing my goals with Logan, which I hoped would increase accountability, as well as provide me with a sounding board.  

It also felt like a step toward joining our lives together later this year. I believed it would increase our feelings of connectedness to learn more about what each other hoped to accomplish in 2019. That way, we could support and encourage each other better, as well as provide feedback, if wanted.

So I created the questions below, which Logan and I answered independently and then discussed together.

WHAT DO I HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH PROFESSIONALLY THIS YEAR?

This initial question asked Logan and me to consider what we hoped to accomplish in our careers in 2019.

Later this year, if I stay on track, I’ll have enough hours to be able to take the MFT licensing exam. Once I’m licensed, I will be able to start my own practice.. While having my own business is a goal of mine, I used this question to reflect on whether it would be practical, realistic, and prudent for me to start my own business this year.

I considered several factors before making my decisions: readiness to start a business (including a clear vision, experience, and capital), financial obligations, plans to have children, and how this decision would integrate with Logan’s plans.

With these considerations in mind, I made the determination that it would be best for me to join a private practice before I start my own business, and created these professional goals for 2019:

  • Complete 3,000 client contact hours
  • Pass law and ethics exam
  • Pass clinical exam
  • Join a private practice

WHAT STEPS WILL I TAKE TO ACCOMPLISH THOSE GOALS?

Okay, so I have my goals for the year, but how would I ensure that I actually meet them? I figured that the easiest way to make sure I would follow through and not become overwhelmed was to lay out the steps I would take to reach my goals.

Because I work in a setting where I consistently see clients, I didn’t think I’d have any trouble completing my hours this year and didn’t need to specify any specific steps to meet this goal other than showing up for work.

Passing the clinical exam would be harder and would require some steps.

First, I would have to take a law and ethics exam. That’s required of me before June in order to renew my associate number (after obtaining a master’s degree and before becoming licensed, MFTs are considered “associate MFTs”). In order to take the exam, I had to apply for it which I did last year and got approved. Then I had to register for the exam, which I did. The next step was the to take the exam. When I wrote my goals, I hadn’t taken the test yet, but as of writing this article, I’ve taken the exam and I passed! Yay!

Once I complete my client contact hours, I will take the clinical exam. Since I know approximately when I will be done with my hours (July or August), I established a first step toward taking the exam as identifying study materials and procedural exam steps in June so I am prepared once I complete my hours.

Finally, I identified a private practice to interview with, got an interview, and am talking about the options for joining that practice. If I don’t, in the end, join this practice, I have a list of contacts I will reach out to to discuss an opportunities they might be aware of.

WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL ROADBLOCKS TO ACCOMPLISHING MY GOALS, AND HOW WILL I OVERCOME THEM?

There’s no getting around it, no path to achievement is without obstacles. Of course it’s not possible to plan for everything that might happen, but I figured that I might be able to come up with likely roadblocks and then preemptively problem solve.

My biggest obstacle is not passing the exams. I’ve never been a naturally good test taker, but I’ve learned that the key to passing tests is to learn how to take the test. Of course I need to have the technical knowledge, but learning the format of the exam and structure of the questions is crucial to passing.  

As I wrote above, good news, I passed the law and ethics portion. Now I have to wait to finish my clinical hours to take the clinical exam. Of course I hope I pass the first time, but there’s the chance I won’t. What will happen then?

Study more and take the test again, sure, but also study why I didn’t pass and problem solve to make sure I pass the next time.

Also, thinking ahead to “what if I don’t pass the exam” solidified that I made the right decision in planning to join a private practice instead of starting my own right off the bat.

HOW CAN LOGAN HELP ME ACHIEVE MY GOALS?

Regardless of relationship status, anyone can answer the first three questions, . But I added this question because I knew I would be sharing my goals with Logan and I wanted to include him in the process. It felt particularly appropriate and poignant given our fresh engagement and marriage later this year.

Accountability

When I shared my goals with Logan, I gave him permission to hold me accountable. That doesn’t mean shaming me if I don’t reach a goal, but rather checking in to see how I’m going, see if I’m facing any obstacles that need to be problem-solved, and offer to help if needed.

Sounding board

After I presented my goals, I asked for Logan’s feedback. I wanted to know if my goals made sense for this year. I wanted to know if they didn’t seem high enough or if they seemed too lofty, or if they, in any way, conflicted with his.. I wondered if I didn’t think a roadblock that might come up that he could help me problem-solve.

He gave me his honest thoughts which solidified that I’d come up with a good plan. He asked questions about who I would be reaching out to if this current private practice opportunity doesn’t work out and if there was anything else I could be doing this year to prepare for ultimately starting my own practice. I didn’t have answers to all of his question, but I appreciated the food for thought.

Support and encouragement

As I shared my goals with Logan and explained my thought process, he was encouraging and supportive. He’s my person to rely on when I’m feeling defeated, and he congratulates me when I achieve a goal. He’s also there to provide suggestions or a new perspective when I’m feeling lost.

Since we’ve been together for a while now, I know that his support and encouragement will transcend our goal-setting conversation and that he’ll be there for me throughout the year.

If you’re like me and haven’t been a goal-setter historically, I’d love to hear if you decide to try in 2019 and what your experience is like. Were these questions helpful for you? Did you come up with any of your own? Comment with your experiences below. This is a space for us to learn from each other.

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